GlobeMed at Northwestern had a fantastic time at the first annual Windy City Retreat yesterday, held at Loyola University Chicago’s campus!! We played some fantastic ice breaker games, talked about health as a human right, made beautiful collages, and most importantly, made fantastic new friends by networking with other passionate GlobeMed students from University of Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, and DePaul University. Here are a few photos from the retreat, and be sure to check out more on Loyola’s SmugMug!!
This coming week is always a big one for the entire GlobeMed organization, as the National Office gets set to put on the annual GlobeMed Global Health Summit, held on Northwestern’s campus. The featured speakers include Leymah Gbowee, the recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, and Zeenat Rahman, the Special Adviser on Global Health Issues to Secretary of State John Kerry. More information is available here, and we encourage everyone who is interested to attend the open events!
To get everyone thinking about some of the important issues that we will be discussing at the summit, here is a wonderful reflection on the importance of prisoner health by Neha Reddy. Neha gave a GHU presentation with Natalie Sack on prisoner health, specifically addressing certain controversial aspects of prisoner health and why it is still an important human right. Share your thoughts on the reflection, and if you liked what you read please feel free to support our cause by donating online at our global giving website or through our web thrift store.
One of the most fundamental questions that we as a society must grapple with is the universality of health as a human right. The test of its merit comes from one of the most reprimanded groups of people in our society, prisoners. Do individuals who have allegedly committed crimes in our communities deserve the same access to health care as the general free populace? If not, where do we draw the line for who is and who is not deserving of adequate medical care?
It is safe to say that the United States is a nation that is quick to incarcerate, imprisoning a higher percentage of its residents than any other country; though it has only 5% of the world’s population, the US is home to nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners. The prison population has become its own community, virtually distinct from the free populace due to its staggering size. This population also faces disproportionate health setbacks. Compared to free citizens, inmates in state jails are 31% more likely to have asthma, 55% more likely to have diabetes, and 90% more likely to have communicable diseases, due in large part to the tight living conditions. Many prevalent diseases such as Viral Hepatitis, Tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS spread rapidly and quickly. Major mental disorders also run rampant among the inmate population, including major depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, ADHD and psychotic disorders. The statistics reveal that there is no doubt that the inmate population faces a higher susceptibility to medical illnesses and outbreaks than the general populace, and treatment is often lackluster, with preventative measures rarely taken and proper rehabilitative techniques disregarded.
Though prisons in the US are often overcrowded and health standards are below those of the general populace, many argue whether or not this is an inherent problem. The Supreme Court case Brown vs. Plata precisely addressed this issue, when the Court ruled that California’s extremely overcrowded prisons violated the 8th Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, which includes the constitutional right to adequate health-care for prisoners. California was as a result ordered to reduce its prison population by a staggering number, more than 30,000 inmates. Justice Kennedy justified the decision by saying, “A prison that deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, is incompatible with the concept of human dignity and has no place in civilized society.” This bold declaration suggested that the lack of adequate medical attention for inmates is incompatible with the basic health standards that have been set for all individuals in the US.
Attitudes about the purpose of prisons have changed dramatically in our society over the last few decades, shifting from an emphasis on rehabilitation to an emphasis on retribution. Ensuring prisoners basic health care is no doubt essential to their rehabilitation, but with a lack of prioritization on the reintegration of prisoners into free society, the lines that decide what health standards prisoners should meet become blurred. It is up to us as a society to firmly decide our stance on health as a human right, declaring what basic medical attention everyone deserves, regardless of his or her status in society. Justice Kennedy said it best by asserting that a violation of the 8th amendment, no matter how much retribution an inmate may “deserve,” shall be condemned in civilized societies because it goes against the very basic concept of human dignity. Future generations will need to re-assess the purpose and goals of our criminal justice system, and in the process will be forced to address the health issues that plague those who are trapped within the prison system.